Olive Oil for Health
By Gloria Good
The hardy olive tree is an
ancient giver of life. Fossilized leaves from a stand of Greek olive
trees date back to 37,000 B.C., and amazingly enough, that particular
stand still exists today. Individual trees can live from one hundred to
thousands of years--the olive tree from Plato’s back yard lives on,
but no longer produces olives.
Next to salt, olive oil is the essence of civilization. The cultures of
the ancient Egyptians, Hebrews, Greeks and Romans all revered the olive
tree for its fruit with a multitude of uses. Olive oil has been used to
moisturize skin and to fuel lamps, to heal and to cook, and it has been
so important that it has even been used as a form of currency.
Olive oil is more than an artifact of the past. There are approximately
800 million olive trees in the world, in places as distant from each
other as Angola, China and California. However, most olive trees circle
the Mediterranean, where people have based their diets on the olive for
6,000 years. In Greece, every man, woman and child consumes an average
of five gallons of olive oil a year!
Nowadays, olive oil is being rediscovered by Americans as a delicious
and nutritious addition to their diets. Science has finally noticed what
others have instinctively known for millennia: Olive oil is not just
tasty; it’s actually good for you!
Olive oil is very high in the antioxidants vitamin A and vitamin E,
which neutralize cancer-causing free radicals in our bodies. It is
monounsaturated, therefore it lowers the “bad” LDL cholesterol
without reducing the “good” HDL cholesterol. This results in
improved circulation, lowered blood pressure and less risk for heart
disease. Recent research also indicates that olive oil may be especially
effective in preventing both breast cancer and osteoporosis.
Its high concentration of oleic acid not only keeps our arteries supple,
it is also partly responsible for olive oil’s popularity--it is a
fairly stable oil with a high smoking point. This means it is suitable
for all cooking except frying, and it stores for a year to a year and a
half in cool, dark storage conditions.
Interestingly, oleic acid is in a medicine used to fight a rare
degenerative disease known as ALD (Adrenoleukodystrophy), which occurs
when a build-up of very long-chain fatty acids (C22 to C28) destroys the
white matter (myelin) in the brain. Made with twenty percent erucic acid
and eighty percent oleic acid, the medicine is called “Lorenzo’s
Oil”, named after a boy with this condition, and was popularized by a
movie of the same name. It is no relation to our new line of olive oil,
“Lorenzo’s Oil Tehama Gold.”
When choosing an olive oil, it is imperative that one buys only “extra
virgin” olive oil, rather than “virgin” or “pure” olive oil.
Extra virgin is the oil from the first pressing; it uses top grade
olives, with less than one percent acidity, and has the highest
nutritional value and the best taste. It is the only oil with which the
consumer can feel safe in knowing that it is truly cold pressed. Virgin
olive oil is also mechanically pressed, but with olives that may not be
top grade and are from the second or third pressing. “Pure” olive
oil is a marketing term; this oil comes from the third or fourth
pressing, and has been refined in a variety of processes, all using
extreme heat and chemicals to extract the oil from the remaining pulp.
There is no standardization of terms, so the consumer is confounded by
such phrases as “cold pressed”, “first pressed”, “expelled
pressed” and “mechanically pressed.” As the goal is to have as
little heat applied as possible, one would think that cold pressed would
be best. However, some cold pressed oils could be the third or fourth
pressing, refined with heat and chemicals, which strip olive oil of its
nutrients and rich, fruity taste. Avoid fraud by sticking to extra
virgin olive oil, which is expressed from only one mechanical pressing,
and is not refined.
Olive oils are as diverse as wines; there are 700 cultivated varieties
of olives. The oils derived from them can be anywhere from mellow yellow
in color, to jade green. The taste can be peppery, sweet and buttery,
nutty, grassy, or it can taste like green apples. An olive oil can be
filtered, resulting in a clearer product, or it can be unfiltered,
resulting in sedimentation and juicy bits of fruit. Some olive oil
aficionados may have as many as a dozen oils from all over the world so
they can savor the different flavors.
As olive oil is such an important component to a healthful diet, we at
The Grain and Salt Society wanted to offer at least one brand to our
customers. We have chosen Lorenzo’s Oil Tehama Gold, which we feel is
an excellent product.
There are many qualities that distinguish this oil from some of the
others. It is grown organically in California, and we all know that
organically grown is a must. Rather than the younger green olives, the
mature fruits are harvested, which results in a creamy, buttery flavored
extra virgin olive oil. In addition, the manufacturing process uses a
dual-phase and tri-phase decanter for extracting olive oil, which does
not add warm water to extract the oil. This is key, because heat alters
the chemical makeup of olive oil, and severely depletes its vitamins.
So do your heart and taste buds a favor and add olive oil to your diet.
Olive oil can be used in salads, stir-fries and sautes. It is delicious
on bread, in place of butter, and brushed on vegetables, fish or poultry
before grilling. Do not deep fry with olive oil because temperatures in
excess of 350 degrees begin to break down the oil.
Remember to always store olive oil in a cool, dark cabinet, not on the
counter, or next to a stove, as both heat and light alter oil’s
For more information on healthyy oils, see the following articles:
"Change Your Oil, Change Your Life" in Spring 1999 "Ghee:
an Ancient Food for a Modern Era" in Spring 1999 "Going Co-Co
for Coconut Butter" in Winter 2000